Children need play as much as they need fresh air.

Play Today – The Urgent Phasing in of Essential
Outdoor Social Play for South Africa’s Children
“The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children.”

  • Nelson Mandela
    “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter
    concerning the child.”
  • Children’s Act 38 of 2005, section 9
    “Children need play as much as they need fresh air, clean water, and
    nutritious food. This plan looks like an excellent way to allow play while
    minimizing the risk of exposure to Covid-19.”
  • Dr Peter Gray, USA, an author on the impact of play deprivation on children’s mental health,
    commenting on the draft guidelines offered in this document. An example of his work can be
    viewed here
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/1195/ajp-decline-play-published.pdf
    The Context
    There is so much to deal with in this unprecedented time, that it is almost impossible for those
    burdened with creating suitable policy, to get to everything. One vulnerable sector of South
    African society tragically neglected in the initial lockdown period, was our children.
    SABC 2 recently reported that ten-year-old Rethabile Mohale recently committed suicide by
    hanging himself in his bedroom, due to the stresses of being in lockdown.
    Dr Shaheda Omar, Clinical Director of the NPO, Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children,
    confirms that they have received a number of other reports of child suicide and child suicide
    attepts. She says that it is easy for children “to feel locked in emotionally, physically,
    psychologically, they are so locked in where everything is closing in on them, they actually do
    not see a way out or beyond this.”
    Unstructured free play is the primary way that children deal with stress and work through their
    feelings, as well as get the exercise and activity that keeps them fit and healthy and builds the
    foundations for social intelligence and other kinds of learning. It is an essential.
    It is very important to realise that the virus itself is not the only aspect of Covid 19 that threatens
    our children’s health and wellbeing, and that distance learning provides for only one aspect of
    children’s essential needs at this time. It will be a tragedy if we significantly harm a whole
    generation of children as an unintended side effect of trying to keep everyone safe.
    Instead, South Africa has the opportunity to implement a well-structured pandemic play program
    and be a world-leader in demonstrating how to build community and vibrant solidarity among
    our youth at this time.
    Céline Darnon of the University of Clermont Auvergne has pointed out that many children “will
    have very few opportunities to go out. This is an important point because physical activities
    contribute to the development of executive functions.” Translated from “Inégalités scolaires : des
    risques du confinement sur les plus vulnérables,” Céline Darnon Professeure de psychologie
    sociale, Université Clermont Auvergne, March 31, 2020, https:theconversation.com
    James Elder of Unicef points out that “Kids are wired for play.” and encourages us to make time
    and find new ways for them to play. News 24, OPINION | Unicef: Covid-19 – children once again
    find themselves on the frontline
    The Guidance Note: Protection of Children during Infectious Disease Outbreaks , from Alliance
    for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, shared by UNICEF points out that at this time
    children suffer if they “do not have access to cognitive or social stimulation offered by education
    and through socialising with peers” and further reports that during the EVD epidemic “children’s
    well-being suffered due to their inability to engage in normal activities such as playing, being
    with other children“
    Lisa Bender of Unicef says that it is key during Covid 19 to “help children cope with the stress….
    If possible, create opportunities for children to play and relax.”
    https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/key-messages-and-actions-for-covid-19-p
    revention-and-control-in-schools-march-2020.pdf?sfvrsn=baf81d52_4 (Education UNICEF
    NYHQ)
    The Center for Disease Control in the USA says that it is important to “help your child stay
    active. Encourage your child to play outdoors—it’s great for physical and mental health.”
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children.html
    Dumisile Nala, the national executive officer at Childline points out that “it’s also about us being
    creative and talking to our kids about other forms of play, that would minimise contact with each
    other.” https://www.msn.com/en-za/news/national/covid-19-children-at-risk-as-early-childhood-de
    velopment-centres-close/ar-BB11qPhI
    It is time for us to take up the challenge to provide South Africa’s children with the essential safe
    play opportunities they need in order to cope with this difficult event.
    The Current Situation
    Many families are trying to meet children’s play needs through play in private gardens with
    siblings, and through online activities with their friends. Since these well-resourced families
    participate visibly in internet and social media life, it can be easy to forget that this is not actually
    the majority of South Africa’s children. And, even in these ideal circumstances, many of the
    more sociable children are struggling.
    Many children in flats and modest homes that do not have private yards have now been locked
    indoors for over a month, without a breath of fresh air or a touch of sunlight, and without the
    company of their friends (some without even a sibling) and opportunities for exercise and
    physical play.
    On the other hand, where it is simply impossible to keep them in – one roomed shacks without
    sanitation, for example – they have too often been left to roam, without social distancing or
    safety measures, any time that troops or police are not in sight.
    What can be done to ensure that all children have the opportunity not just to study and to
    exercise in regulated ways indoors, but to meet the essential play, free physical and social
    needs that are so important for their short term well-being and long-term development, in ways
    that are safe and appropriate during this stressful time?
    Draft Guidelines for Phasing in Play
    Play is essential for young people’s mental and physical health, and for their healthy physical,
    social and cognitive development, and the play skills that are the foundations for learning.
    Play releases children’s stress, which in turn reduces stress on other family members and
    makes it more possible for everyone to comply with Alert Level measures. For all of these
    reasons and more, it is critically important to phase in safe options for essential outdoor play
    during the Covid 19 pandemic.
    Obviously, all of the suggestions below can be adjusted by health professionals where
    necessary for safety, for e.g. at high risk times to allow Play Today only on alternate days vs
    daily.
    Scheduling Play Today
    Children’s play could be organised by Alert Level mediated by Location – just as there are
    different load-shedding schedules for different suburbs at certain times, so there can be different
    Play Today scheduling for different locations, depending on risk.
    Even if the whole nation is at Alert Level 4 it makes little sense to constrain children in local
    areas without a single current infection to the same Play Today level as children in the
    epicentre, for example.
    Official statistics on the infection rate and prevalence in a given town, suburb or other location
    can be used to inform communities on which Play Today measures currently apply to them, and
    these can be changed at short notice. Health officials and experts should give input to what
    infection rates and prevalence would correspond with each Play Today level.
    Play Today Level 5.
    Locations where there is currently a very high infection rate and
    prevalence, with low preparedness of health care services, can Play
    Today at Level 5.
    Young people under the age of 18 can play
    ● outdoors
    ● during the hours of 9am and 11am, and between 5pm and 6pm
    ● With members of their own household only
    ● Grouped with a No One’s Land of at least 6m from between household amasimu
    (territories).
    Dustbins or other visible items can be used to mark Insimu (territory) boundaries.
    No household group is to take an Insimu substantially larger than adjoining households. Public
    Service Announcements (PSA’s) should encourage households to be considerate in giving
    close-to-home amasimu to younger children, while families with cars or with older children who
    can walk, move on to further spaces.
    In high density areas without options, Play Today On The Spot should be implemented.
    Suitable activities:
    The household may play any games including contact games and chasing games that can be
    reliably contained within their Insimu without any encroachment of persons or items on No
    One’s Land and adjoining amasimu.
    Ball games only where the Insimu is large or contained enough that balls cannot reasonably
    enter the No One’s Land.
    Wheel toys and ride-ons only if they can be safely kept out of No One’s Land.
    Where public play spaces are used, playground equipment is completely out of bounds
    assuming these are hard to sanitise.
    On The Spot Activities
    Play Today PSAs will inspire the nation with ideas for safe On The Spot activities where space
    is too limited for normal active play such as running around. ACTPSA and similar organisations
    can be consulted.
    Interaction between households
    Safe Social Distancing collaborative play with neighbouring amasimu:
    Children can meet at least their minimum social needs by interacting from a distance. PSAs will
    inspire the nation with ideas for safe collaborative play such as “Dance Party”, “Simon Says”,
    “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Charades”, word games that can be shouted such as “I went
    shopping”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 4.
    Locations where there is currently a more manageable infection rate
    and prevalence, can Play Today at Level 4.
    Young people under the age of 18 may play
    ● outdoors during the hours of 9am – 12noon, and 3pm – 6pm
    ● With members of their own household only
    ● Grouped with a No One’s land between group Territories of at least 6m from other
    household group Territories
    Dustbins or other visible items can be used to mark Territory boundaries.
    No household group is to take an Insimu substantially larger than adjoining households. Public
    Service Announcements (PSA’s) should encourage households to be considerate in giving
    close-to-home amasimu to younger children, while families with cars or with older children who
    can walk, move on to further spaces.
    In high density areas, Play Today On The Spot should be implemented.
    Where public play spaces are used, playground equipment is completely out of bounds,
    assuming it is hard to sanitise.
    Suitable activities:
    Ball games only where the Insimu is large or contained enough that balls cannot reasonably
    enter the No One’s Land.
    Wheel toys and ride-ons only if they can be safely kept out of No One’s Land.
    The household may play any games including contact games and chasing games that can be
    reliably contained within their Territory without any encroachment of persons or items on No
    One’s Land and adjoining Territories.
    On The Spot Activities
    Play Today PSAs will inspire the nation with ideas for safe On The Spot activities where space
    is too limited for normal active play such as running around. ACTPSA and similar organisations
    can be consulted.
    Interaction between households
    Safe Social Distancing collaborative play with neighbouring amasimu:
    Children can meet at least their minimum social needs by interacting from a distance. PSAs will
    inspire the nation with ideas for safe collaborative play such as “Dance Party”, “Simon Says”,
    “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Charades”, word games that can be shouted such as “I went
    shopping”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 3.
    Locations where there is currently a relatively moderate infection rate
    and prevalence, can Play Today at Level 3.
    Young people under the age of 18 may play
    ● outdoors during the hours of 9am – 12 noon and 3pm – 6pm
    ● With members of their own household only, or with up to 2 other households
    ● Households should group according to Covid 19 status: households with a member
    tested positive should only group with other households where a member has tested
    positive.
    ● Household members who are coughing or sneezing should not join the group
    ● Groups should be consistent, not varied from day to day, and should only change if the
    Covid 19 status of one of the households changes.
    ● Each group of 2 or 3 combined households should total 10 people or less, with not less
    than 2 and not more than 4 people over 18 and not less than 2 people under 18.
    ● Grouped with a No One’s land between group amasimu of approximately 6m.
    Dustbins or other visible items can be used to mark Territory boundaries.
    No group is to take an Insimu substantially larger than adjoining groups. Public Service
    Announcements (PSA’s) should encourage groups to be considerate in giving close-to-home
    amasimu to younger children, while families with cars or with older children who can walk, move
    on to further spaces. Households in a group should not share cars.
    In high density areas, Play Today On The Spot should be implemented.
    Where only one household plays together without joining a group of other households, the
    household may play any games including contact games and chasing games that can be
    reliably contained within their Insimu without any encroachment of persons or items on No
    One’s Land and adjoining amasimu.
    Where more than one household is grouped, then:
    Precautions
    Hands should be washed or sanitized before and after the session. Mask use to be in line with
    general government regulations. No contact play, games like ‘tag’ can be adapted to become
    ‘shadow tag’ etc. When sitting or standing, children should be reminded to stretch out their arms
    and flap their wings to ensure they are far enough away not to touch friends, and adults should
    model social distancing. No toys or props as these could be passed between households.
    Where public play spaces are used, playground equipment such as slides, jungle gyms and
    roundabouts can be used on condition that children use hand sanitisers directly before the start
    of the play session, and use is limited to 1 child on the structure at a time (2 children for a
    see-saw).
    Suitable activities:
    The group may play any games (excluding contact games) but including chasing games such
    as Shadow Tag as long as they can be reliably contained within their Insimu without any
    encroachment of persons or items on No One’s Land and adjoining amasimu.
    Play Today/ ACTPSA and the public interaction through Play Today TV and social media PSA’s
    will provide further examples of non-contact games that groups can play, and examples of what
    constitutes contact play to be avoided.
    Ball games only where the Insimu is large or contained enough that balls cannot reasonably
    enter No One’s Land, and only feet are used: goalies do not throw in the ball.
    Wheel toys and ride-ons must not be shared, and used only if they can be safely kept out of No
    One’s Land.
    On The Spot Activities
    Play Today PSAs will inspire the nation with ideas for safe On The Spot activities where space
    is too limited for normal active play such as running around. ACTPSA and similar organisations
    can be consulted.
    Interaction between groups
    Safe Social Distancing collaborative play with neighbouring amasimu:
    Children can meet at least their minimum social needs by interacting from a distance. PSAs will
    inspire the nation with ideas for safe collaborative play such as “Dance Party”, “Simon Says”,
    “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Charades”, word games that can be shouted such as “I went
    shopping”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 2.
    Locations where there is currently a mild infection rate and
    prevalence, can Play Today at Level 2.
    Young people under the age of 18 may play
    ● outdoors during the hours of 9am – 12 noon and 3pm – 6pm
    ● With members of their own household only, or with up to 4 other households
    ● Households should group according to Covid 19 status: households with a member
    tested positive should only group with other households where a member has tested
    positive
    ● Household members who are coughing or sneezing should not join the group.
    ● Groups should be consistent, not varied from day to day, and should only change if the
    Covid 19 status of one of the households changes.
    ● Each group of combined households should total 15 people or less, with not less than 2
    people over 18 and minimum 2 people under 18.
    ● Grouped with a No One’s land between group amasimu of approximately 6m.
    Dustbins or other visible items can be used to mark Territory boundaries.
    No group is to take an Insimu substantially larger than adjoining groups. Public Service
    Announcements (PSA’s) should encourage groups to be considerate in giving close-to-home
    amasimu to younger children, while families with cars or with older children who can walk, move
    on to further spaces. Households in a group should not share cars.
    In high density areas, Play Today On The Spot should be implemented.
    Where only one household plays together without joining a group of other households, the
    household may play any games including contact games and chasing games that can be
    reliably contained within their Insimu without any encroachment of persons or items on No
    One’s Land and adjoining amasimu.
    Where more than one household is grouped, then:
    Precautions
    Hands should be washed or sanitized before and after the session. Mask use to be in line with
    general government regulations. No contact play, games like ‘tag’ can be adapted to become
    ‘shadow tag’ etc. When sitting or standing, children should be reminded to stretch out their arms
    and flap their wings to ensure they are far enough away not to touch friends, and adults should
    model social distancing. No toys or props as these could be passed between households.
    Where public play spaces are used, playground equipment such as slides, jungle gyms and
    roundabouts can be used on condition that children use hand sanitisers directly before the start
    of the play session, and use is limited to 1 child on the structure at a time (2 children for a
    see-saw).
    Suitable activities:
    The group may play any games (excluding contact games) but including chasing games such
    as Shadow Tag as long as they can be reliably contained within their Insimu without any
    encroachment of persons or items on No One’s Land and adjoining amasimu.
    Play Today/ ACTPSA and the public interaction through Play Today TV and social media PSA’s
    will provide further examples of non-contact games that groups can play, and examples of what
    constitutes contact play to be avoided.
    Ball games only where the Insimu is large or contained enough that balls cannot reasonably
    enter No One’s Land, and only feet are used: goalies do not throw in the ball.
    Wheel toys and ride-ons must not be shared, and used only if they can be safely kept out of No
    One’s Land.
    On The Spot Activities
    Play Today PSAs will inspire the nation with ideas for safe On The Spot activities where space
    is too limited for normal active play such as running around. ACTPSA and similar organisations
    can be consulted.
    Interaction between groups
    Safe Social Distancing collaborative play with neighbouring amasimu:
    Children can meet at least their minimum social needs by interacting from a distance. PSAs will
    inspire the nation with ideas for safe collaborative play such as “Dance Party”, “Simon Says”,
    “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Charades”, word games that can be shouted such as “I went
    shopping”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Health officials can advise whether it can also be explored to create guidelines for limited safe
    indoor social group play at this level of alert.
    Play Today Level 1
    Locations where there is currently no discernible infection rate and
    prevalence, and communities are simply on standby, would practice
    Play Today at Level 1.
    Play Today measures should be determined in alignment with the general levels of freedom
    allowed for other types of gatherings and adult exercise activities at this level or by maintaining
    Play Today Level 2, whichever allows the greater freedom to play.
    General notes on Implementation of Play Today
    Social Distancing
    Social Distancing for Play Today should take into account that children can move fast, and may
    need reminders on the run! The distance between groups may need to be closer to 10 for very
    active children.
    Access
    Social Distancing-compliant travel by foot, by public transport, and by family vehicle should be
    allowed in order to access suitable spaces, and – at designated levels – chosen companions.
    Bicycles and wheel toys on their way to Territories should be carried or pushed rather than
    ridden to reduce risk of accidental encroachment onto other Territories.
    Spaces for play:
    Acknowledging that South Africa is short of dedicated play spaces for children, and seeing that
    many spaces are not being used at this time, all of the following spaces should be offered for
    Play Today.
    ● Parks
    ● Empty parking lots
    ● Streets that are not main routes to shops where both vehicle and pedestrian traffic is
    minimal
    ● School fields, parking lots, and courtyards
    ● Grounds and gardens of public and private buildings such as homes and offices
    ● Undeveloped land and non-specific open spaces
    ● Cemeteries where hygiene and community attitudes allow.
    Activities
    Organisations and individuals such as ACTPSA can be asked to provide suggestions for
    suitable activities. As much as is safely possible, children should be free to play in their own
    spontaneous ways so that they can resolve their personal stress effectively.
    Recommended Presentation: Play Today.
    The Guidance Note: Protection of Children during Infectious Disease Outbreaks , from Alliance
    for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, shared by UNICEF points out that it is important to
    “ Ensure messages consider age-appropriateness and are informed by an understanding of
    sociocultural conditions and behavioural determinants related to knowledge and perceptions of
    the disease, its prevention and control measures, and care seeking patterns.”
    The same document also advises countries to “Engage well-known local artists, such as
    singers, comedians, television and film stars and radio personalities, in creating positive,
    contextualised, educational and awareness raising messages that draw on popular local modes
    of communication, including song and theatre.”
    The name “Play Today” emphasises that measures can be changed daily if needed.
    Play Today should be palatably presented to children as a way to play a meta game called “Play
    Today” with rules that could be changed from day to day, rather than as a set of restrictions.
    Police and troops should be aware of their ability to frighten children and inhibit play, and try to
    keep only the level of presence truly necessary.
    To facilitate compliance, if practical it is probably wise to use the concept of a drill to
    occasionally declare Level 4 and Level 5 days in times and locations of lower risk. In this way
    young people can get a feel for how to play during the high risk Levels, rather than experiencing
    a necessary sudden switch to higher risk as a sudden unexpected deprivation.
    Communications
    National broadcast resources could help optimise Play Today through creating daily segments
    for Play Today TV, and social media Public Service Announcements could also guide
    households to understand how to implement Play Today, and inspire the nation with games and
    activities to fit each Play Today level.
    Organisations such at ACTPSA could help with initial recommendations for suitable activities for
    different safety levels, and children could be encouraged to send their own play ideas to Play
    Today for sharing with the nation.
    Early Play Today episodes and PSA’s could show families how to make effective home-made
    masks and how to wash/sanitize hands effectively even in difficult conditions, as well as helping
    children understand social distancing and other Covid 19 issues through messages tailored to
    their age.
    Play Today At A Glance
    Play Today Level 5: High Risk Areas
    ● outdoors only
    ● 9am-11am, and 5pm-6pm
    ● own household only
    ● Minimum 6m from other amasimu
    ● Keep everything out of No One’s Land
    ● Public playground equipment strictly out of bounds
    ● If your Insimu is small, play On The Spot games
    ● Play games with your neighbours at 6m minimum distance: “Dance Party”, “Simon
    Says”, “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 4: Medium Risk Areas
    ● outdoors only
    ● 9am-12noon, and 3pm-6pm
    ● own household only
    ● Minimum 6m from other amasimu
    ● Keep everything out of No One’s Land
    ● Public playground equipment strictly out of bounds
    ● If your Insimu is small, play On The Spot games
    ● Play games with your neighbours at 6m minimum distance: “Dance Party”, “Simon
    Says”, “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 3: Moderate Risk Areas
    ● outdoors only
    ● 9am-12noon, and 3pm-6pm
    ● own household plus 1-2 other households
    ● 10 people maximum, 2-4 over 18’s and minimum 2 under 18’s
    ● Keep the group to the same households, according to Covid status
    ● Wash/sanitise hands, mask use in line with regulations
    ● Inside your group play 1m apart and play non-contact games like “Shadow Tag”
    ● Minimum 6m from other amasimu
    ● Keep everything out of No One’s Land
    ● Public playground equipment strictly out of bounds
    ● If your Insimu is small, play On The Spot games
    ● Inside your group play 1m apart and play non-contact games like “Shadow Tag”
    ● Play games with your neighbours at 6m minimum distance: “Dance Party”, “Simon
    Says”, “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 2: Mild Risk Areas
    ● outdoors only…?
    ● 9am-12noon, and 3pm-6pm
    ● own household plus 1-4 other households
    ● 15 people total group, minimum 2 over 18’s and 2 under 18’s
    ● Keep the group to the same households, according to Covid status
    ● Wash/sanitise hands, mask use in line with regulations
    ● Inside your group play 1m apart and play non-contact games like “Shadow Tag”
    ● Minimum 6m from other amasimu
    ● Keep everything out of No One’s Land
    ● Public playground equipment 1 child at a time (2 for see-saws)
    ● If your Insimu is small, play On The Spot games
    ● Play games with your neighbouring groups at 6m minimum distance: “Dance Party”,
    “Simon Says”, “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Twenty Questions” etc.
    Play Today Level 1: Low Risk Areas
    ● outdoors and approved indoor options
    ● 9am-12noon, and 3pm-6pm
    ● own household plus 1-4 other households
    ● 15 people total group, minimum 2 over 18’s and 2 under 18’s
    ● Keep the group to the same households, according to Covid status
    ● Wash/sanitise hands, mask use in line with regulations
    ● Inside your group play 1m apart and play non-contact games like “Shadow Tag”
    ● Minimum 6m from other amasimu
    ● Keep everything out of No One’s Land
    ● Public playground equipment 1 child at a time (2 for see-saws)
    ● If your Insimu is small, play On The Spot games
    ● Play games with your neighbouring groups at 6m minimum distance: “Dance Party”,
    “Simon Says”, “Mirror Me”, “Let’s All Be”, “Twenty Questions” etc.